What’s the difference? Nothing.
This recording of a meeting of the Conservative group on Surrey County Council has confirmed everything that Jeremy Corbyn said in Prime Minister’s Questions on February 8.
Mr Corbyn had asked if a “sweetheart deal” had been done with Surrey, only to be told by Mrs May that decisions on Surrey Council’s funding were for Surrey Council alone. We know now that she was lying.
Mr Corbyn had asked about a “memorandum of understanding” between the council and government ministers (now known to be Sajid Javid and Philip Hammond). Mrs May tried to say Surrey’s decision not to raise council tax by 15 per cent was about spreading best practice and finding a sustainable solution. That was also a lie.
Mr Corbyn went on to ask how much the government offered Surrey to “kill… off” the 15 per cent increase, and whether this offer was open to other councils that are on the tipping point between being able to manage and failing. Mrs May responded by saying he was peddling “alternative facts”. That was a lie and an evasion; she did not even try to answer the question – even when it was repeated a moment later.
So we have heard lie after lie from the Tories in Surrey and in Westminster.
It is now clear that some sort of deal was reached between them and it is long past time they admitted that the Tory council has enjoyed largesse that has not been extended to other struggling councils, particularly those run by the Labour Party.
We don’t care if it was a “sweetheart deal” or a “gentleman’s agreement” – what was the nature of the deal between the Tory government and the Tory leadership of Surrey Council?
How many other Tory-held councils have enjoyed similar preferential treatment?
And why was this not extended to Labour councils?
David Hodge, the leader of Surrey council, told Conservative colleagues that a “gentleman’s agreement” had been reached with senior cabinet ministers that persuaded him to cancel a threat to raise council tax by 15%.
In a secret recording of a Conservative group meeting on 7 February, the politician revealed there had been a “series of conversations” with the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, in a car outside Downing street. That was followed by a second meeting with the chancellor, Philip Hammond, he said.
Hodge told those in the room not to email or tweet his words as he shared details of meetings that appeared to take place between an MP acting as an intermediary and the cabinet members.
He said the MP was “looking for assurances, looking for clarification, looking for help basically on how we could stop the referendum” from Javid in the car.
“[The MP] then went inside and spoke to the chancellor – I think I can say that. He went inside and spoke to the chancellor, his spad [special advisor] was waiting … He was with him and then the spad rang me with what we can and cannot say,” Hodge added, according to a transcript of the meeting passed to the Guardian.
A government source insisted on Tuesday that there had been no special deal for Surrey and that conversations about local government funding with councils took place regularly.
But Hodge implied that the outcome of the discussions was that he withdrew a decision to push for a referendum that would enable the council to raise the tax by 15%, and instead stick with the 4.99% allowed.
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